One would think that the nomination of Chuck Hagel to be the next US Secretary of Defense would have caused Jews, and Americans’ comfortable with the projection of American power across the globe, some cause for concern, and for Jews, a reassessment of their voting patterns. Not so fast.
Obama opponents are not surprised, Obama acolytes are unperturbed, but the most interesting reaction came from a well-known ADL voice who opined to the Wall Street Journal that he does not understand how President Obama could choose someone “who policies are so out-of-sync with his own,” or something of that sort. Funny how the obvious answer – that Obama chose someone whose policies are quite in sync with his own (all election rhetoric to the contrary notwithstanding) never occurred to this commentator.
Indeed, both the Hagel nomination for the Pentagon and the John Kerry nomination to head the State Department are ominous but not unforeseen. (This space anticipated a Kerry nomination back in October.) And that is not because of the unfortunate statements that Hagel has made over the years about Jews and Israel, nor because of Hagel’s astonishingly insensitive defense of his Israel record: “I have voted to give Israel about $35B over the years,” as if to say, you know, that’s all the Jews want anyway, money.
We should not bandy about the phrase “Jew-hater” too wantonly; it is a hideous accusation today, akin to being called a “racist.” The accusation is the indictment, and punishment comes forthwith. In fact, there is a limit as to how anti-Jewish any American politician can be, whatever their private beliefs, and such accusations here are unwarranted and undeserving. Nor does “money” play a role in ascertaining one’s support or antagonism for Israel; Rand Paul is charged with being unsympathetic to Israel because he opposes foreign aid on the grounds that it makes little sense for America to borrow money from China to give to Israel, or any other country. That sounds like a reasonable proposition to me, but for the simple fact that America’s military aid to Israel is largely spent in the United States (approximately 70% of it) and so amounts to a US subsidy to the US arms industry. So one can be pro-Israel and oppose military assistance, or be anti-Israel and support military assistance. In any event, Congressional support for Israel is so bi-partisan and widespread that changes in aid are unlikely in the near future no matter who heads the Pentagon or the State Department.
The Hagel problem boils down to a set of values and policies that will reduce the American profile in the world – something that can only cause the anti-American evildoers to rejoice. (Indeed, the Hagel nomination was greeted in Teheran with dancing in the streets; sometimes, an enemy’s visceral reaction is more indicative of the true nature of events than any spin politicians and talking heads can put on the matter. There is no Hagel thesis-antithesis-synthesis ahead: he, like Obama, is at core an isolationist who is not at all proud of the role American has played in the world. That is not say that Hagel will embark on his own international apology tour as Obama did, or that Hagel will be caught bowing to the Saudi king. It is that bad things happen in the world – instability festers, problems linger until they explode – when the United States is in retreat.
Israel is worried, because they assume that a Hagel as head of Defense means that the United States will never attack Iran, nor necessarily cooperate with Israel if Israel wishes to attack unilaterally. The sharing of intelligence will be muted; since that is mutual, that can affect US intelligence in the Middle East as well. The nightmare scenario of a nuclear armed Iran –and what that means for Israel and for the United States – is that much closer. A nuclear Iran will dominate the Persian Gulf destabilize the flow and the price of oil. In effect, Iran will play a more dominant role in the American economy, especially given Obama’s opposition to oil-drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and the Keystone pipeline. Rather than make America energy-independent – a distinct and realistic possibility within a decade – Obama is leaving the US at the mercy of Iran and prefers reliance on the sun and the wind. No wonder Iranians are dancing in the streets; Hagel has even long opposed sanctions against Iran.
Much has been made – too much – of Hagel’s distinguished service in Vietnam, and all Americans honor that service. But service in the military qualifies one to head the Pentagon and formulate strategic doctrine as much as being a welfare recipient qualifies that person to head the Department of Health and Human Services. Patriotism is an admirable characteristic, but not necessarily a “qualification” for any particular job. As a Senator, Chuck Hagel was wrong more often than right – especially in his contemptuous dismissal of the Bush surge – the “worst mistake since Vietnam” – which, in fact, snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. (Granted, it was a victory since squandered by the current administration.)
Hagel is a problem, but John Kerry might prove to be an even bigger problem. Jews are always made a little nervous by people who deny or assert unawareness about their Jewishness. As is well known, Kerry’s grandfather immigrated to the United States, changed his name from Kohn to Kerry, converted, and passed himself off as an Irish Catholic until he allegedly met a tragic end. At times, Jewish roots inspire pride and further investigation into one’s heritage; other times, Jewish roots are perceived as painful and threatening, and induce an unconsciousness desire to suppress those memories and renounce those roots.
But Kerry’s Jewish connection is not as troublesome as are his politics. It was just a few years ago that he described himself as a “good friend” of Basher al-Assad, the current butcher of Damascus. Assuming that Assad did not just in the last year transform himself into a monster, what sort of “friendship” was that? Indeed, while the personal relationship is probably exaggerated, the policy conclusions are not: Kerry believes in the stability wrought by dictators whom he thinks can be won over as American allies. That particular prescription has been fools’ gold for almost a century, and certainly – in the Arab world – in the last half-century; the United States has benefited little from those attempts.
Essentially, the Arab world provides the US almost nothing but oil. But for oil, there would be no talk, or need to talk, of an “alliance.” Those “alliances” have always been unpredictable anyway, and such relationships have proved hazardous to Americans and US interests time and again. Dependency on despots is never salubrious. It should trouble Americans, therefore, the Obama administration has chosen energy dependence over independence, and chosen to align itself with the Muslim world – Turkey, Egypt, et al – and in the process completely ignoring the anti-American shifts that have occurred in those countries. The Kerry/Hagel dialectic will only hasten the reorientation of US foreign policy. That is not only bad for Israel and bad for the world, it is bad for America as well.
Such are the consequences of elections, my fellow Jews. The spin being spun is that there is more to being pro-Israel than supporting Likud policies down the line. All true – but the Israeli political party must attuned to the Obama administration in its current drift and future trends is not Likud or Labor or even Kadima which is moving Achora so quickly it will soon be defunct; rather, Obama’s foreign policy is more closely aligned today with the Balad Party of Haneen Zoabi – who is also not worried about an Iranian bomb, who also favors a two-state solution (although she might mean two Arab states), and who is obviously pro-Muslim.
As Chuck Hagel said quite forcefully several years ago, he is not the “Senator from Israel but a United States Senator.” Whatever his personal feelings towards Israel, his policies reveal that he clearly has never valued the US-Israel relationship as much as most of his colleagues do and as the American people and most prior administrations have. Assertively pro-Israel Democrats – like Chuck Schumer, for example – know the score and the problem and the spin, and are surely being tested now, including wrestling with this conundrum: the Kerry/Hagel approach is very much in sync with that of the President they enthusiastically endorsed, not at all a departure from it, and not good for Israel or the United States. As if the disregard of America’s spiraling deficit was not enough, you got what you voted for.
(The above are my thoughts alone. Any similarity to the thoughts of other people, groups or institutions – real or imagined, living or dead – is purely coincidental.)